* American Express boosts Dow after results
* Investors eye first round of French election this Sunday
* Dow up 0.98 pct, S&P 500 up 0.90 pct, Nasdaq up 1.02 pct (Updates to mid-afternoon, changes byline)
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, April 20 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were higher in on Thursday, with the S&P 500 index on track for its best day in about seven weeks, as American Express set the tone for the latest batch of earnings.
The credit card company was up 5.8 percent as the top boost to the Dow Industrials after reporting a smaller-than-expected drop in quarterly profit late Wednesday.
CSX Corp, up 5.6 percent, was one of the best performers on the S&P 500 after the railroad company reported a better-than-expected quarterly net profit driven by rising freight volumes and said it plans to cut costs and boost profitability moving forward.
“They really are just focusing now on the micro, which they should be, on the earnings and what the earnings are saying,” said Ken Polcari, Director of the NYSE floor division at O’Neil Securities in New York.
“Investors are putting the geopolitical stuff to the back of the bus at the moment and they are really focusing on what they should be.”
Major indexes had scuffled in recent days, falling for two straight weeks to retreat from record levels as worries about President Donald Trump’s ability to deliver on his pro-growth promises raised some concern about stretched stock valuations.
Mounting tensions between North Korea and the United States and the looming French presidential elections also served to heighten investor caution.
Of the 82 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings through Thursday afternoon, about 75 percent have topped expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data, above the 71 percent average for the past four quarters.
Overall, profits of S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 11.1 percent in the quarter, the best since 2011.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 200.94 points, or 0.98 percent, to 20,605.43, the S&P 500 gained 21.25 points, or 0.91 percent, to 2,359.42 and the Nasdaq Composite added 59.98 points, or 1.02 percent, to 5,923.01.
Each of the three major indexes were on pace for their biggest daily percentage gain since March 1. The S&P 500 climbed back above its 50-day moving average, a level that had acted as resistance after the index fell below it last week.
Recent polls showed centrist Emmanuel Macron hung on to his lead as favorite to win France’s presidential election in a four-way race that is too close to call.
Philip Morris fell 3.8 percent to $109.61 as the biggest drag to the benchmark S&P index after the tobacco maker’s first-quarter profit forecast fell below estimates.
Key companies scheduled to report results after the close on Thursday include Dow component Visa and toymaker Mattel .
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.45-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.90-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 37 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 101 new highs and 28 new lows. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Anil D‘Silva and Chizu Nomiyama)